Summary: Levi changed his name to Matthew in his Gospel to reflect his heart change.
Last week we talked about the man who came through the roof with the help of his friends. Remember Jesus was more concerned about his spiritual healing than a physical healing. While his friends expected a physical, healing Jesus instead forgave his sins. It was after the religious people got upset that Jesus healed him physically to prove that He and God were one.
All of this had to be a lot for his disciples to take in. They have witnessed water being turned into wine, and Jesus clearing the temple. They have witnessed a late night meeting with Jesus and a Pharisee, followed by his encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well. They have witnessed evil spirits being cast out and many healings taking place including Peter’s mother-in-law and the paralyzed man on the mat.
When Jesus left the house with a hole in its roof He went out to seashore again and taught the crowds that was coming to him. As He was walking along He and his disciples meet the next character we will discuss.
Often when we hear the word “disciple”, we think of the twelve. However, Jesus actually had a lot more disciples than that. In Luke 10:1, we read, “The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.” The fact that He chose seventy-two others would indicate that there were many more than that.
John 6:66 also exemplifies that fact. “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.” As you can see, the picture of just twelve men following in behind Jesus was not correct. The very word “disciple” means a student and follower. He had many students and followers.
However, within this huge group were some rather special people. These included Andrew, Simon Peter, James, John, Phillip, and Nathanael. Possibly included in that list by now were Thomas, James (the son of Alphaeus), Simon (the zealot), Judas (son of James) aka Thaddeus, and Judas Iscariot. We know that in this group were three sets of brothers and two of those sets were fishermen.
As they are walking along the shore, they get to the place where the tax collectors are sitting. These guys would be positioned to levee a tax on the fishermen for their catch. The taxes were being collected for the Roman government. These tax collectors were hated and despised because they were usually fellow Jews who worked for Rome. Since Israel was part of a province of the Roman Empire, they were to carry the heavy weight of administering the Empire.
Each province would have a Roman official, known as a censor, who was ultimately responsible for collecting the revenue of the province. The censor would sell the rights to extort tax to the highest bidder. These guys were known as the chief tax collectors. They were usually Roman businessmen who saw this as an opportunity to make a profit by collecting more taxes than required and keeping the difference. These chief tax collectors would hire men, usually Jews, to be tax collectors. They would have a quota to fill to insure the chief tax collector made a profit. In addition, of course some of the tax collectors would collect more than their quota to insure a profit for themselves.
Judea was in the province of Syria and every man was to pay 1% of his annual income for income tax. That is good compared to what we pay. But that was not all, there were also import and export taxes, crop taxes (one tenth of grain crop and one fifth of wine, fruit, and olive oil), sales tax, property tax, emergency tax, and on and on. You could even be taxed for what you were carrying.
What did they get in return for their tax dollars? A good system of roads, law and order, security, religious freedom, a small amount of self-government and other benefits. It sounds like our tax system is based on the Roman method, doesn’t it.
While it was true that all censors and chief tax collectors were dishonest, that was not true of all tax collectors. Most would have been well educated and certainly mathematically inclined. For these Jews this was a job, a way to provide for their family using their skills. They would have calculated a fair tax to meet their quota and received nothing more than their salary. Even John the Baptist recognized the fact that the job, in itself, was not wicked but rather the actions of those involved in the job.
Luke 3:12-13 “Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.’” He did not command they quit their job but rather they be honest in their work.